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She has 13 cats in a two bedroom apartment. Here’s her litter box advice.

A cat fanatic and interior design expert shares her best tips for managing a litter box in a small space

Kate Benjamin with three of her 13 cats at home in Phoenix, Ariz.  Benjamin is a co-author of the best-selling books "Catify to satisfy" and "Catification."
Kate Benjamin with three of her 13 cats at home in Phoenix, Ariz. Benjamin is the co-author of the best-selling books “Catify to Satisfy” and “Catification.” (Caitlin O’Hara/for The Washington Post)


It was not Kate Benjamin’s intention to collect a dozen felines from a baker. They just piled up over the years as her two-bedroom apartment in Phoenix became a pit stop for strays she planned — and often didn’t — to place elsewhere. She now lives with 13 cats (plus another human, her husband) on 1,100 square feet. So if you have questions about keeping a litter box in a small space, Benjamin almost certainly has the answers.

She’s not just a recreational cat lady, either. She’s a pro. In 2012, she launched Hauspanther, a design tool for cat owners; she’s also co-author of bestsellers “Catification” and “Catify to Satisfy,” both about creating cat-friendly — yet stylish — homes.

Her own kitty litter routine involves scooping out the 11 boxes in her apartment several times a day, wiping them all down and changing kitty litter once a week, and doing a monthly deep cleaning, which includes thoroughly scrubbing their interiors. All the while, she navigates the different preferences of her many four-legged companions. For example, Horacio Queso, a black, short-haired gentleman, insists on using only the boxes in Benjamin’s office and must be promptly let in every morning.

That’s why, despite her years of research and first-hand experience, Benjamin emphasizes that the true expert on small-space litter strategy probably already lives in your home: your cat. “You have to listen to what they tell youshe says.

Nevertheless, Benjamin’s advice is pretty good too.

Where do you place a litter box in a small space

The worst thing about having a litter box in a small space is also a benefit: Since you can’t hide it in a basement or laundry room, you’d probably better remember to clean it. “That’s better for you, it’s better for the cat,” says Benjamin.

When figuring out where to put the litter box in a small space, it’s important to choose a spot where the cat has privacy. When cats go to the bathroom, they’re “hardwired to think, oh, I just did something that might attract a predator,” says Benjamin, so they prefer a bit of seclusion. However, do not place the box in a closet, where dust and odor can accumulate without proper air circulation.

You’ll also want to avoid the kitchen, for the obvious reason that it’s unsanitary (not to mention unsavory).

If the box needs to be in a high-traffic area, Benjamin suggests putting a screen around it (actual litter box screens do exist, but any divider will work, as long as it’s easy to wipe clean). “That creates a really nice airflow,” she says. “But it has a little bit of privacy and it’s really easy to move the screen around and go back and clean it.”

Regardless of the location, keep a small vacuum cleaner or broom nearby to clean up whatever your cat finds outside the box. Benjamin swears by her cordless Dyson, which hangs on the wall.

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Reduce litter box odors in a small space

Even carefully maintained litter boxes still stink from time to time. A nearby air purifier can help. Benjamin recommends choosing one that isn’t too noisy — which could deter your cat from using the box — and buying one with a HEPA filter that removes dust and pet dander from the air.

Benjamin has another tool she swears by: ground zeolite, a natural mineral she describes as “baking soda on steroids.” Zeolite is also used in horse stalls and is safe for cats even if they digest it. Mix it into your kitty litter to combat odors.

Finally, if you can’t immediately take your bags of scooped litter to an outside trash can, consider getting a bin made specifically for cat litter, which also reduces odors.

Choosing a litter box for a small space

If there is a litter box on the market, Benjamin has almost certainly tried it. “I have as much variety as possible in a small space without covering the whole house in litter boxes,” she says. As with so many cat problems, it may take some trial and error to figure out which box is best for your pet.

Top-entry models are often popular for small homes because they take advantage of the vertical space and, compared to lidless or side-entry boxes, they do a good job of keeping litter contained. Still, this style doesn’t work for all pets, says Benjamin. If your cat is older or has mobility issues, she may have difficulty getting in and out.

Boxes on the top also give cats the opportunity to be ambushed by children or other pets when they try to escape. (The rare litter box ambush in the Benjamin household is generally caused by 2-year-old Sven, who can be “very fickle.”) Plus, some cats don’t like being cooped up. One compromise that Benjamin likes is Tuft + Paw’s Cove Litter Box. It has high sides to keep waste in and has a removable wall.

In a small space, you might also consider a triangular litter box designed to fit neatly into a corner, such as the Kitangle seamless covered litter box, which Benjamin uses in her home.

Somewhat surprisingly for a woman with 13 cats, Benjamin is not a fan of robotic litter boxes that claim to be self-cleaning. She tried one a few years ago and says some of her cats were so put off by the sounds and movements that they refused to use it. Bear, one of her bigger cats, was so nervous he would try to hit him.

If aesthetics are important to you, there are plenty of litter boxes available that resemble furniture, including some disguised as side tables, cabinets, or planters. But don’t lose sight of the most important thing: “It’s important that the cat has enough space to move around inside and feel comfortable,” says Benjamin.

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Choosing the right litter

Once you have the right box, you need the right nest. Keep in mind that if you decide to swap out the type you’re already using, keep an eye on your pet, as cats can become anxious about change. Try to get yours used to the new things by gradually adding more of it to the box with each cleaning.

The first question to consider when buying litter is clumping or non-clumping? In small spaces, the answer is almost always the former, since the non-clumping kind needs to be dumped completely and refilled much more often (tricky when you have limited access to garbage disposal and few places to add extra kitty litter). However, the main disadvantage of clumping waste is that it is dusty. That’s why Benjamin only uses it in the seven litter boxes on her “catio” – her screened-in porch, which she gave to the felines, of course.

For her indoor stalls, Benjamin uses crystal-style litter, which absorbs liquids and traps odors, but sheds less dust. The downsides are that it needs to be replaced more often and the grains are sharp underfoot.

One thing Benjamin scrupulously avoids: odorous garbage. Cats have a strong sense of smell and may find the smell unpleasant. Plus, as Benjamin wisely points out, “Masking the smell isn’t really taking care of it.”

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